The Ones Who Came Before

This story is paired with “The Story of King Shahrayar and Shahrazad” from 1001 Arabian Nights. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free. 


We are the wives without stories,
the ones unable to stay his hand,
the knife that split our skin
like warm spools of ribbon.

We are the girls sent by our fathers
in wedding gowns sewn
by our mothers’ tired hands.

How dawn carried our blood
away— like fire— and after,
the floors and sheets washed clean
for the next of us, blossoms
soft beneath our naked feet.

They sing songs of the woman
that cooled his fury, tamed the beast.
Praise be the weaver of tales!

And they bury the names
of the ones that came before—
along with their bodies, we
who spent those many nights
safe in our own arms.

They say we were never Queens
for more than one night. But
our stories were our own,
spun from our hair
and tucked into our mouths.

We did not empty ourselves
of dreams upon his bed. No—
we spill them to the earth like seeds,
our cold lips sprouting worlds
too bright for his rough hands to touch.


NBR6GaffneysmallM. Brett Gaffney works as Associate Editor and Art Director of Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Stone Highway Review, Slipstream, Wind, Penduline, Cactus Heart, Exit 7, Still: the Journal, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Rogue Agent, museum of americana, and Zone 3, among others.